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Behind the scenes: The amazing folks cleaning up the Gulf

By John Murgatroyd, CNN
CNN's Rob Marciano joins a crew cleaning up oil on a Gulf beach.
CNN's Rob Marciano joins a crew cleaning up oil on a Gulf beach.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN crew heads to Gulf to document cleanup effort
  • Crew takes hazmat training, joins workers on the beach
  • They also visit a bird rehabilitation facility
  • Watch "Rescue: Saving the Gulf" Saturday & Sunday night at 8 ET on CNN

Editor's note: CNN's John Murgatroyd joined the biggest cleanup job in the world. Here is his behind-the-scenes account of reporting the story. Watch the CNN special "Rescue: Saving the Gulf," Saturday & Sunday night at 8 ET on CNN.

From the Gulf Coast (CNN) -- I've field produced my fair share of disasters and the one thing that always amazes me is the number of people who come together to help their neighbors, their communities, their fellow man. This oil spill is no different.

Day 59 of the oil spill. We were just a couple of days into shooting "Rescue: Saving the Gulf" and we realized we needed to get some hazardous materials training if we were going to be able to get Rob Marciano working in the field with those who are saving the Gulf.

Our entire crew signed up for the four-hour class that enabled us to handle oiled product. Instructor John Henderson of Safe Worker Alliance, who referred to himself as "Safety John," had personally trained more than 900 workers thus far. Nine-hundred people by day 59!

With training complete and our certification cards in hand, we headed to the beach in Perdido Key, Florida, at 5 a.m. Rob was enthusiastically ready to clean tar balls. He joined a six-person crew.

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As the temperature climbed, the enthusiasm quickly faded. By 8 a.m., temperatures were already in the mid-80s. The mandatory water and rest breaks became more frequent. The work was tedious and draining.

Yet every person on Rob's crew remained positive. They are all from the area. They said they felt like they were helping to save their hometown. They not only want their own families to continue to enjoy the beach, but also the tourists who spend money in their town. It's important to them. It's their home. The process is slow. They cleaned about 150 yards of beach in one shift, but they are determined.

The next week, we headed to a bird rehabilitation facility operated by the International Bird Rescue Research Center.

The first thing we witnessed after walking onto the grounds was a steady stream of volunteers carrying cleaned birds to a holding area. The birds had just passed their final checkups and were going to be released in the coming days.

The pace is fast and if you stand around, you're in the way. Rob met Lynne Engelbert, a volunteer who was making a slurry for the birds that needed to be tube fed.

This is not Lynne's first disaster. She is a disaster search dog handler out of California. She's been involved in some big ones: the Oklahoma City bombing cleanup, the space shuttle Columbia recovery mission and Hurricane Katrina.

Her love for what she was doing permeated the warehouse holding the birds. She smiled as she told Rob, "This is the most intense deployment I have ever been on. I have never worked so hard in my life."

I don't think she could be anywhere else while this disaster is happening. That's the attitude of most of the heroes saving the Gulf.

To me, that's what "Rescue: Saving the Gulf" is all about: those amazing people who happily put all their opinions of this spill aside and are compelled to help.

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